Here’s my review of NCIS Los Angeles season seven episode “Where There’s Smoke.” Please note that this isn’t a recap of what happens. I’m assuming that you’ve already seen the episode. There are spoilers in this review.
I’ve been saying all season long that episodes are better when they have a personal connection to the team. Emotions are more intense and tensions are higher. But even when the case isn’t personal, it should put the team in a situation where we can learn more about our characters. Personally, the case in “Where There’s Smoke…” was entertaining and somewhat interesting, but I don’t think it elevated the characters in the same way previous episodes have. I don’t usually focus my reviews on the case, but it’s something to think about as well.
The reason why procedurals are so prevalent on TV these days is because it’s easy. The case provides a framework for the episode to function. As such, it’s not unusual for viewers to just ignore the case to focus on the usually more interesting b-story instead. (I do this often one Elementary too.) But a great episode will make sure the case is just as interesting and vital as the character work. In this episode, the team was looking into the death of a firefighter in a classified area where sensitive information was stolen. Firefighters are a group the team doesn’t normally deal with, so it was a plus to be investigating something other than spies and shady drug dealers, etc. Another plus to this setup was that it got Nell out of the office, however briefly that was. Because Eric and Nell spend so much time in Ops, it’s refreshing to see them anywhere else, even if it’s not for long.
And another good thing about the case was that it gave them the opportunity to do undercover work. It’s always fun to see the team in these different roles. The undercover work also sets NCISLA apart from other procedurals that are largely focused solely on murder investigations. For a viewer looking for something different than the usual, they can tune in to NCISLA. And watching Sam and Callen go undercover as firefighters was exciting just to see how they react in a different environment with different people.
The problem with this case was the reveal of the culprits and their very dumb motivation for what they did. The obvious extra focus on the arson investigator early on meant that he would play an important role later. As it turned out, he’s the mastermind of the whole thing. And his accomplice turned out to be a random guy they weren’t even investigating undercover. And why did they do all this? Just simply to get their hands on a terrorist list that does really include a lot of actual terrorists. The ending was a dud compared to how the case began. It all felt very contrived. So in the end, the case doesn’t really do much to expand or enhance our understanding of any of the main characters.
All the important stuff happens between work: Sam and Callen teasing each other as usual, Kensi and Deeks talking relationship stuff, Granger and Hetty worrying about the mole (who no one is ever actually looking for I guess??). We could have removed the case entirely and it wouldn’t have made a difference to any of these stories. That’s why personal cases work better. The two are irrevocably linked, giving us a well-rounded hour of TV.
I enjoyed watching this episode despite its flaws, and I realize that every episode can’t have a personal connection. How unrealistic would that be! But when it’s an episode like this, it might work better to at least try to use the case as a tool for character development.
Notes from the Boat Shed
- Next week is the season finale and it looks intense! I’m looking forward to seeing them bring back Sam’s story from earlier this season.
- There’s been a lot of mention of the mole lately, but still no actual progress. Are they even looking?? I hope the mole will factor into the season finale in some way. It’s been drawn out long enough.
- Is it just me or does the TIDE list seem pointless? If it’s mostly innocent people, why not compile a more accurate list? (The voice in my head kept saying “Why do they even have that list?” in the same voice of Ezma from the Emperor’s New Groove going “why do we even have that lever?”)
- I laughed when they said Deeks couldn’t go undercover because his LAPD precinct worked with that fire department. When was the last time Deeks was actually at his LAPD office?? (other than when he was arrested)
- Granger gets the most hilarious line as always. What did he want to be when he was five years old? “Six years old.”
- Callen may have updated his name on his ID, but he’ll always be Callen to me!
- I see you, Supergirl reference. Nice try, CBS.
- Deeks is waiting for something to go horribly wrong? Does he know he’s in a TV show and the season finale is next week?
So what did you think? Like it or hate it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.